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6 May 2010 FINAL 


Cultural Uuderstaudiug: Is it Possible to Uuderstaud Auother’s Culture Without 
a Firm Grasp of Oue’s Owu? 

3. DATES COVERED (From - To) 







Paper Advisors: Prof. Patrick Sweeney and CAPT Tom Sass, USN 


Joint Military Operations Department 
Naval War College 
686 Cushing Road 
Newport, RI 02841-1207 








Distribution Statement A: Approved for public release. Distribution is unlimited. 

13. SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES A paper submitted to the Naval War College faculty in partial satisfaction of the requirements of the Joint 
Military Operations Department. The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by the NWC 
or the Department of the Navy. 


Hard lessons learned in both Iraq and Afghanistan appear to indicate that technology, intelligence, and training cannot prevail if Americans 
do not understand their adversaries and/or the people they are trying to protect. As a result, an undue focus has been placed on the need to 
understand foreign cultures within the context of conducting military operations. While this knowledge is important, an understanding of 
another culture can only be reached through first understanding American culture and the subsequent inherent biases. One’s own culture is 
what forms the lens through which others are perceived. This paper will provide an understanding of what constitutes “culture” and will 
examine how the United States (U.S.) military currently conducts cultural orientation training. It will then explain some aspects of 
American culture that provide the basis for a worldview, which must be considered in the attempt to understand others. Finally, the paper 
will provide an examination of how culture has affected U.S. military goals and activities in previous operations, illustrating how blindness 
to one’s own culture can potentially lead to failure. 














19b. TELEPHONE NUMBER (include area 

Newport, R.L 



Michele J.Z. Olsen 
Major, United States Air Force 

A paper submitted to the Faculty of the Naval War College in partial satisfaction of the 
requirements of the Department of Joint Military Operations. 

The contents of this paper reflect my own personal views and are not necessarily 
endorsed by the Naval War College or the Department of the Navy. 


6 May 2010 






Culture Defined 

Current U.S. Military Culture Training 

A New Method 


Cultural Orientation 


Operational Examples 













Hard lessons learned in both Iraq and Afghanistan appear to indicate that technology, 
intelligence, and training cannot prevail if Americans do not understand their adversaries 
and/or the people they are trying to protect. As a result, an undue focus has been placed on 
the need to understand foreign cultures within the context of conducting military operations. 
While this knowledge is important, an understanding of another culture can only be reached 
through first understanding American culture and the subsequent inherent biases. One’s own 
culture is what forms the lens through which others are perceived. This paper will provide an 
understanding of what constitutes “culture” and will examine how the United States (U.S.) 
military currently conducts cultural orientation training. It will then explain some aspects of 
American culture that provide the basis for a worldview, which must be considered in the 
attempt to understand others. Finally, the paper will provide an examination of how culture 
has affected U.S. military goals and activities in previous operations, illustrating how 
blindness to one’s own culture can potentially lead to failure. 

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a 
hundred battles without a single loss. 

If you only know yourself but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. 

If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself. 

- Sun Tzu, The Art of War 

There has been a significant push in the United States (U.S.) military in recent years 
toward training related to cultural awareness and foreign language acquisition. Specifically, 
cultural awareness seems to be one of the fundamental concepts highlighted in attempting to 
calculate how to conduct successful military operations. Despite this push, the overall 
concept is not new, as all four military services operate centers specifically designed to 
provide cultural awareness training to their respective service members. The U.S. military 
seems to be searching for better ways to teach culture in anticipation of current and future 
operations; however, a true understanding will only be possible by incorporating lessons 
regarding American culture.^ 

The question that always plagues the U.S. military is how to determine where the next 
conflict is going to occur. Colonel Maxie McFarland (USA, Ret) stated it well when he 
asked, “With so many diverse cultures and the enormous amount of study required to become 
an expert on any given one, how do we narrow the field to find the right focus for generating 
cultural skills in soldiers?” While intelligence analysts have struggled with this question in 
the past, the best answer may lie with the method of teaching American culture in order to 
make the process of learning other cultures easier and less time consuming when conflict 
does arise. Cultural norms are so ingrained in daily life that many individuals are completely 
unaware of how this affects their daily behavior. Developing an awareness of culture may be 
the single most important aspect of this area of study within the U.S. military. By comparing 
and contrasting American norms and values with those of other cultures, awareness can be 
developed regarding how to better formulate military plans from Phase 0 through Phase 5. 


It is important to understand the basie concept of culture. Understanding another’s 
culture is not simply learning what taboos to avoid or what historical events shaped the 
current environment, but rather it is an in-depth understanding of the behaviors and beliefs 
characteristic of a particular group as it compares to individually held values. Simply put, it 
is the ability to view the world through a lens that distinguishes the differences of how others 
see the world. 

In developing this concept, information will be provided to define culture and its 
component parts. Furthermore, an overview of cultural orientation and its relationship to 
intercultural communication will be examined. A look into current U.S. military culture 
training will help to form the foundation behind this concept and will highlight the relevance 
behind the need to shift how culture training is accomplished. Using this data, two different 
operational examples will be considered in order to demonstrate how a better understanding 
of American culture could have potentially affected the outcome in a more positive fashion. 
Finally, recommendations for how the U.S. military should move forward by incorporating 
this concept will be presented. 

Culture Defined 

In order to understand the significance of culture as it relates to military operations, it 
is important to define the general concept. Although finding a definition for culture should 
be straightforward, there are a variety of nuances that make it difficult to find a common, all- 
encompassing description. These subtle variations are due to the use of the concept across 
various fields of study and have continued to evolve over time. As an example, Alfred 
Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn identified 164 different definitions of the term culture in their 
1952 book on the subject. Dictionary definitions often incorporate various elements such as 


geography, history, language, religion, and shared beliefs in order to define culture; however, 
the fundamental basics all focus on framing a societal characteristic. This paper will utilize 
the definition provided by Dr. Brooks Peterson, a noted expert in the cross-cultural arena and 
founder of Across Cultures, Inc.: 

Culture is the relatively stable set of inner values and beliefs generally held by 
groups of people in countries or regions and the noticeable impact those 
values and beliefs have on the people’s outward behaviors and environment."^ 

Essentially, culture is the framework by which we view the world around us. This 

learned and shared behavior explains how human beings interact within a community, 

no matter how large or small.^ Culture also impacts how an individual will act or 

react to new situations or information as they view it in the context of what they 

already know. 

Defining the concept of culture as it relates to military operations is more 
difficult than arriving at a comprehensive definition.^ According to a review of 
different military documents to include doctrine, operating manuals, regulations, and 
instructions, culture is mentioned on numerous occasions although it is often not 


further defined. For example. Joint Publication (JP) 2-0 Joint Intelligence and JP 3-0 
Joint Operations both mention the importance of gaining cultural knowledge of the 
operating environment, but the documents do not elaborate as to what specific 


knowledge is to be gained or the method by which this should happen. Furthermore, 

the official definition of culture as listed in the JP 1-02 Department of Defense 

Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms is as follows: 

A feature of the terrain that has been constructed by man. Included are such 
items as roads, buildings, and canals; boundary lines; and, in a broad sense, all 
names and legends on a map.^ 


Clearly there is a disconnect between the military definition of culture and its intended 
application toward achieving success during military operations. 

Current U.S. Military Culture Training 

As previously mentioned, all branches of the U.S. military operate schools dedicated 
to culture and/or language training.Using the U.S. Army as an example, deployment 
preparations have included language, political, and cultural instruction for every conflict 
since World War II. Despite the fact that cultural training is not new, its importance seems 
to have increased as military and political leaders search for better solutions in today’s 
operations. This rise in importance could be attributed to the ongoing counterinsurgency 
operations that place a much heavier dependence on winning the hearts and minds of the 
local population in order to further military successes gained on the battlefield. 

All too often, culture training includes only a series of overly simplistic do’s and 

don ’ts regarding proper behavior at the forward location. The training is oftentimes only 

conducted as a part of predeployment preparations and can range from self-paced computer 

based training modules to full-fledged interactive seminars. While these cultural aspects are 

important to the conduct of day-to-day business, they certainly do not provide the U.S. 

military member with the tools they need to properly understand the culture for which they 

are about to operate. Furthermore, the limited focus of the military’s cultural training can be 

confused with sensitivity or diversity training because it does not provide the military 


member with enough cultural information to identify and cross the cultural gap. 

It can be argued that the current U.S. military training on culture is short sighted and 
is generally focused only on the current conflict. Although there has been movement toward 
incorporating a longer-term focus on training in languages and culture, the movement has not 


yet been fully realized. High-ranking military and congressional leaders have begun to 
advocate for this type of training; however, the current reality does not provide military 
members with the tools they need to be considered culturally savvy. 

A New Method 

A significant number of articles have been published over the past decade discussing 
the critical need to “overhaul the mentality of the military” by “integrating cultural 
sensitivity into combat operations”^'* in order to be operationally successful. Every article 
states the only way to incorporate this type of training is to build a foundation through 
professional military training and doctrine by which cultural awareness becomes second 
nature, yet limited information is provided regarding how to conduct this task.*^ Proposals 
generally include a training focus centered on basic aspects of a culture such as geography, 
history, politics, religion, and customs.*^ While this will aid military members by providing 
a deeper knowledge of the area and/or conflict for which they are about to conduct 
operations, the data will not create a true understanding of how culture impacts actions and 
attitudes in the region. In order to develop an understanding of a given culture, the training 
must move away from the information found in most standard intelligence briefings. 

As an outspoken proponent of cultural training in the military. General Anthony Zinni 
(USMC, Ret) has stated, “Know the culture and the issues.. .know how the involved parties 
think. We cannot impose our cultural values on people with their own culture.” This goes 
to the heart of why it is important to study all aspects of a culture before commencing 
operations. However, his statement also highlights a fundamental flaw in the current cultural 
training process within the military. General Zinni recognizes that we cannot impose our 
culture on that of another, but he also assumes that U.S. military members are able to 


recognize their own culture and the inevitable biases associated with being an American. 

This concept, known as ethnocentrism, is the habit of interpreting life from only the point of 
view of one’s own group. 

A new method for conducting cultural training does not radically shift from the 
current structure, but tackles the problem from a different angle. In order to truly understand 
another culture, it is paramount that an individual know of his or her own culture first. On 
the surface, this feat may seem overwhelming, as America is a very large and diverse nation; 
however, there are fundamental basics involved in understanding culture that transcend 
across all nations and groups.This concept is not new, but rather has been employed by the 
business world as guided by sociologists, social psychologists, and anthropologists for 
decades. Experts in these fields have not necessarily agreed upon the correct methodology to 
teach culture, but they all agree that culture has a direct impact on the ways that individuals 
communicate. By understanding the interpretation of how a situation is perceived through 
one’s own cultural lens, steps can be taken to ensure the correct message is being transmitted. 
Of course, this knowledge will only go so far without also understanding the cultural lens by 
which the information is being received. Consequently, it is not possible to have one without 
the other. 

Cultural Orientation 

In order to develop an understanding of cultural orientation, it is important to 
understand many of the foundational normative values and factors. Research has identified 
several different factors regarding how a culture operates which help to define different 
cognitive styles, theories of knowledge, and value systems. While not all encompassing. 


these norms can provide a frame of reference through which a common understanding can be 

Looking at different cognitive styles will help to understand how information is 
organized and processed within a given culture. People within a society generally fall into 
either an open-minded or closed-minded cognitive style. A person from an open-minded 
society will generally seek out additional information before making a decision, whereas an 
individual from a close-minded society sees only a narrow range of data and will ignore any 
other information provided. Using this example, many Middle Eastern theocratic countries 
are considered to be closed-minded societies as they are guided only by ideas presented 
within the Koran. Other societies that fall into the closed-minded category include 
communist nations and tradition-based societies in the Far East. However, it is interesting to 
note that the United States is also considered to be a closed-minded society, opening only to 
outside information when a significant deficiency is recognized. While the United States is 
not theocratic, communist, or guided by thousands of years of history, the cognitive style 
may be due in part to the fact that Americans believe their society and culture are superior to 
others, and therefore, will not consider the idea that other’s ways might be better. This 
concept, known as American exceptionalism, traces its roots back to 1630 when John 
Winthrop wrote, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” It 
was expected that the colonists in the new world would be the example for the rest of Europe 
to emulate. Former American presidents throughout the past few decades have echoed the 
same concept, which argues that the United States has special standing amongst all nations. 

Another aspect of cultural cognitive style includes a study of how people process 
information. This process is often divided into two categories, with characteristics being 


either associative or abstractive. An associative person will filter new information through 
the screen of previous personal experience in order to determine how to respond, whereas an 
abstractive person will consider hypothetical situations without requiring the use of past 
experiences as a guide. While individuals may not necessarily conform to the societal ways 
of thinking, associative or abstractive thinking is often developed through the educational 
system. Using the same compare and contrast system above, most Middle Eastern countries 


produce associative thinkers whereas America values abstractive problem-solving behavior. 

The final aspect in determining cognitive style has to do with how thinking and 


behavior are focused; people are considered to be either particular or universal thinkers. 
Particular thinkers value personal relationships over rules and laws when interpreting a given 
situation, while universal thinkers tend to obey rules and laws with relationships taking a 
secondary importance. Universal thinkers often look at what is best for society and believe it 
is their overall duty to comply with authority in general. 

Understanding the belief system by which a culture operates can help to navigate 
through the decision making process. This concept, known as epistemology, determines how 
a specific culture arrives at the truth. Different cultures determine the accuracy of knowledge 
using faith, facts or feelings. The United States values facts when seeking the truth and 
only occasionally lets faith, whether religious, political or ideological, interfere in the 
process. On the contrary, when doing business in the Middle East or Ear East, it is faith and 
feelings respectively that determines how a country arrives at the truth. 

While definitely not the final norm in determining cultural orientation, understanding 
the value system, or the basis for behavior, within a society will provide significant insight 
into how ideas are determined to be right or wrong. One of the most relevant items to 


consider in this determination is a eulture’s locus of decision-making, or how much they 


prize individualism as opposed to collectivism. Americans are very individualistic in this 
sense with personal initiatives and achievements being rewarded positively. This value 
system embraces the idea of decentralized decision-making, with important decisions 
frequently delegated to the lowest level. By comparison, the cultures in both Central and 
South America tend toward collectivism where a strong sense of responsibility to the family 
or group will influence how a decision is made. This same collectivist nature places strong 
value on holding the decision-making responsibility, therefore delegation is not often seen or 
appreciated. Along these same lines, American culture tends toward the concept of the 


majority rules, whereas decision-making in the Far East strives toward consensus. 

Additional areas of study to look at when determining cultural orientation include 
communication, attitudes toward conflict, approaches to completing tasks and the value of 
time. When focusing on communication, it is more important to dedicate time toward 
understanding the style of communication rather than learning a few words for basic 
communication. Determining how a culture generates, transmits, receives, and interprets 
messages can go a long way toward effective communication in a foreign nation. While 
symbolic communication such as the use of pictures, drawings and photographs can further 
understanding between members of different cultures, it is also paramount to have 
knowledge of the degree of importance given to nonverbal communication. Simple aspects 
such as facial expressions, personal distance, and the sense of time can make an enormous 
difference when dealing with a culture that places additional value on such actions and ideas. 
Furthermore, different norms regarding the degree of assertiveness can add to cultural 
misunderstandings when attempting to communicate. Knowing whether a culture views 


conflict as positive or negative, or something that should be faced in public or discussed in 
private, will aid in developing a better understanding of how a society operates. 

Finally, it is imperative that culture training includes many of the characteristics 
already being covered. Knowing the history, religious background and tribal/national 
affiliations of a culture will often provide insight into many of the other aspects already 
mentioned above. Just as with the other aspects of cultural orientation, grasping how these 
factors influence American culture is required in order to understand another culture. 


Globalization and today’s 24-hour news cycle have created an environment where a 
subtle mistake made by a junior military member at the tactical-level can be broadcast around 
the world with little warning. This concept, known as the strategic corporal theory, can 
destroy months of progress and directly impact the strategic-level. In order to combat these 
situations, leaders at every level need to understand the role that culture plays within military 
operations. While it may not be possible to negate every potential mistake made by a junior 
member, cultural understanding will go a long way toward preventing avoidable pitfalls. 

With that said, this understanding will serve as a significant force multiplier at the 
operational-level giving leaders the tools they need to rapidly judge a situation for its reality, 
and not through the culturally-biased lens of someone less informed. 

American culture is something that is lived every day by U.S. military members, but 
it is probably not well understood. An ironic circumstance is that other cultures are probably 
more likely to recognize nuances within American culture as a result of their ability to view it 
from the outside. Although the current viewpoint stems from the idea that culture belongs to 
free enterprise and does not have a role in government, this has not always been the case. In 


1938, the U.S. State Department established the Division for Cultural Relations as a way to 
use culture as a diplomatic tool. During the Cold War, American diplomats felt as if they 
needed to export the American way of life abroad as a way to combat communism. Despite 
the lack of government involvement in the spread of American culture abroad today, the 
prominence of American entertainment, technology and economic influence continues to 
further international perception of “American cultural imperialism.” In order to understand 
this perception and its influence on U.S. military operations abroad, it is important to 
understand the influences of American culture as well as its reception by non-Americans. 

Operational Examples 

One prominent view of United States culture abroad is that Americans are arrogant, 
imposing, and unable or unwilling to respect local customs or culture.Unfortunately, 
perception becomes reality when Americans interact in international situations without first 

understanding their own 

Comparing Cultural Norms and Values 

Aspects of Culture 

Mainstream American Culture 

Other Cultures 1 

cultural predisposition. A 

Sense of setf and space 

Informal, handshake 

Formal hugs, bows, handshakes 

comparison of American 

Communication and language 

Explicit, direct communication; emphasis 
on content, meaning fourfo in words 

Implicit, indirect communication; 
emphasis on contexL meaning found 
around words 

cultural norms with those 

Dress and appearance 

”01055 for success” ideal; wide range in 
accepted dress 

Dress seen as a sign of position, wealth 
and prestige; religious rules 

Food and eating habits 

Eating as a necessity, fast food 

Dining as a socialexperience; religious 

of other cultures is found 

Time and time consciousness 

Linear arxl exact time consciousness; 
value on promptness, time equals money 

Elastic and relative time consciousness; 
time spent on enjoyment of relationships 

in Figure 1. While there 

Relationships, ^mily, fiiends 

Focus on nuclear family; responsibility 
for set^ value on youth; age seen as 

Focus on extended fomity; loyalty and 
responsibility to fomily; age given status 
and respect 

are a wide variety of 

Values and norms 

IrKlividual orientation; indeperKlerK»; 
prefererK^e for direct confrontation of 

Group orientation; conformity, preference 
for harmony 

military situations that 

Bebefe and attitudes 

Egalitarian; chall^iging of authority; 
individuals control their destiny; gender 

Hierarchical; respect for authority and 
social order; nxlividuals accept Iheir 
destiny; different roles for men / women 

could have yielded better 

Mental pnx^sses and learning style 

Liriear, fogical, sequential problem 
solving focus 

Lateral, holistic simultaneous; accepting 
of life's difficulties 

outcomes with a thorough 

Work habits and practices 

Emphasis on task; reward based on 
individual achievemenL work has 
intrinsic value 

Emphasis on relationships; rewards 
based on seniority, relationships; work is 
a necessity of IHe 

understanding of American Figure l. Comparing Cultural Norms and Values (Gardenswartz and Rowe 



culture, the two operations of Somalia and Iraq will be used to examine the theory in more 


The United States became involved in Somalia under a United Nations (UN) mandate 
for humanitarian disaster relief and in conjunction with the collapse of civil government. 
Although American intervention was initially welcomed, public sentiment changed during 
the course of the operations, violence increased in the country, and U.S. forces were 
subsequently withdrawn after only 18 months without successfully achieving the objectives. 
Although the Somali and American cultures share many common values, such as 
independence, democracy, individualism, and egalitarianism, the United States was at a 
disadvantage due to a lack of cultural understanding.^^ This lack of understanding applied to 
the limited knowledge of Somali culture as well as toward how American cultural norms 
would impact the situation as a whole. While the United States had good intentions when 
they embarked upon the humanitarian operations in 1992, a better understanding of culture 
could have led to a better outcome. 

In looking at the concept of communication, cultural misunderstandings can be noted 
in several different areas. Somalis believe in the notion of collective responsibility where a 
“council of men” make decisions, and matters such as age, lineage and wealth can heavily 
influence decision-making. This concept directly contradicts the American cultural 
aspiration for individualism. By not understanding this difference, the U.S. military 
concentrated its attention on two of Somalia’s main warlords believing they were operating 
as individuals and not as part of a larger integrated society. As a result of this lack of 
understanding, the degree of power and authority was shifted within the Somali kinship 


system.^^ Another area related to communication includes the methods by which the U.S. 
military attempted to spread their message. Although communication is important within the 
Somali culture, a large portion of the population is illiterate and relies on the spread of the 
spoken word for messages. Rather than embracing the Somali oral tradition whereby the 
more eloquent spoken word receives the most attention, the U.S. military opted to drop 
leaflets. By taking these actions, the United States not only did not understand the Somali 
desire for verbal communication, but also failed to appreciate the collective nature of now 
information is transmitted and received. Furthermore, the image of American helicopters 
dropping items on the Somali people provided the various warring clans’ propaganda 

Along these same lines, the U.S. military failed to note the differences between 
approaches to problem solving and the importance of time. The United States fundamentally 
believed that the humanitarian actions in Somalia were going to be brief and there would be 


no need to become involved in local politics. Unfortunately, this concept was the direct 
result of traditional American abstractive and universal thinking and did not take into 
consideration the Somali tradition of associative behavior. In this situation, cultural 
misconceptions allowed the Somali “nomadic” concept of time to be ignored in favor of the 
time-constrained negotiations, subsequently increasing tension in the region. 

Despite the fact that American and Somali cultures share the common value of being 
closed-minded, the attitudes toward reconciliation differ greatly. The United States and 
Somalia have opposing values when is comes to conflict resolution. Somalis value their own 
ability to resolve problems independently without outside intervention, whereas the United 


States believes that the involvement of outside assistance is often best. Where a Somali 


would see a third party as untrustworthy, the United States views an outside opinion as a 
guarantee of impartiality. In the Somali environment, local tradition and family culture is 
valued as the way to resolve issues. In contrast, the United States eagerly accepts outside 
information and techniques when a deficiency is recognized. 

The lack of cultural understanding also impacted the U.S. military’s ability to operate 
as a coalition in this operation as many different organizations were all operating with 
different biases. The media frequently portrayed America as the only country willing or able 
to help in the Somali humanitarian cause, which “resulted in self-congratulatory commentary 
reminiscent of the Gulf War.” While the United States did not see this fact as unacceptable 
or out of the ordinary, the impact of such behavior alienated coalition partners, undermined 
UN involvement and made further coordination extremely difficult. In this regard, the 
United States completely disregarded any assistance by other African nations believing that 
their help was not necessary and completely ignored the fact that African nations believe they 
should be the first to intervene in African problems. 


U.S. military involvement during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM presents many more 
examples of cultural misunderstandings. While the United States has made a tremendous 
shift in the value placed on Iraqi cultural knowledge since 2003, having a greater 
understanding of American culture would have provided a significant advantage to planners 
at the outset of operations. 

In a situation similar to that of Somalia, the United States believed that their actions 
would be welcomed and encouraged by the local populace.This belief likely stemmed 
from the American ethnocentristic belief that its values and way of life are superior to all 


others. Similarly, the United States believed that the Iraqi people would join together to 
“form a more perfect union” if the umbrella of a harsh dictator were lifted. While this notion 
seemed plausible to most Americans, the belief is directly impacted by cultural biases. 
American culture has been significantly influenced by a unique nationalism not found 
elsewhere in the world. As immigrants arrived in the United States, they traded their cultural 

norms (language, traditional beliefs, etc.) for American patriotism, thereby building a strong 

system of shared core beliefs. U.S. military planners 
allowed this bias to interfere with appropriate 
planning, not understanding that Iraqi culture is more 
strongly associated with extended family, tribes or 
groups and not necessarily with the state or nation. 

See Figure 2 for a hierarchical list of the cultural 
Scale of Identities.Furthermore, challenges to Figure 2. Scale of identities (Bechtoid 2009). 


(1) SELF 



(4) TRIBE 







(11) "WORLD" 

planning also included the fact that American culture embraces individualism whereas the 

Iraqi culture is much more collectivist in nature. 

Another critical point to be considered is the notion that the Iraqi people would stand- 

up and take ownership of their nation as soon as possible. Again, the American cultural bias 

of governmental representation altered the military way ahead. The United States was 

founded on the principle of a representative form of government where society expects that 

the elected officials be accountable to the people. Given that Iraq was a rentier state, the 

government derived the majority of its income from the export of natural resources and not 


through taxation. As a result, the people came not to expect much from their government 

nor believe that they had a say in the matter. Moreover, grass roots organizations are not 


common in Iraq; therefore, motivating the local populace to stand up for their beliefs in ways 
similar to the current Tea Party movement in the United States did not come naturally. 

Notwithstanding the information presented above, many would disagree with the 
notion that teaching American culture to U.S. military members would increase 
effectiveness. One of the main counterarguments to the idea of teaching American culture is 
the belief that America is too diverse, therefore an “overarching culture” cannot be taught. In 
response to this argument, it is important to understand that America has unique attributes, 
which transcend across the nation providing a consistent view to non-Americans. 

Another rebuttal to the notion of teaching American culture would be the concept that 
it is more important to teach the strategic corporal cultural elements that could cause 
embarrassment to the United States given limited time and constrained resources. Although 
the U.S. military is overextended and performing non-core competencies missions, it is 
important to understand that culture is a primary source of self-determination. Creating 
soldiers who are literate in their own culture and sensitized to their own biases will allow 
new experiences to be viewed without prejudice. According to Colonel McFarland, 
“Culturally literate soldiers understand and appreciate their own beliefs, behaviors, values 
and norms, but they are also aware of how their perspectives might affect other cultures. 
Achieving self-awareness of our own cultural assumptions enables us to use this 
understanding in relations with others. 

A final argument to contradict the need for military members to learn American 
culture is the concept that the knowledge and application of its principles are more the 
responsibility of American politicians and/or the U.S. State Department. While this may be 
true, the interaction of U.S. military members in situations other than combat demands a 


greater understanding of culture. Even with the U.S. State Department leading America’s 
international engagement efforts, U.S. military members will continue to interact with their 
coalition counterparts and indigenous populations. 


As indicated previously, the most effective method by which to teach another culture 
is through a comprehensive understanding of one’s own culture. The U.S. military should 
continue its current direction of including cultural training regarding others into accession 
programs, professional military education courses and predeployment preparation; however, 
additional information must be added in order to ensure military members are literate when it 
comes to their own culture. A comprehensive list of specifics related to another culture 
without the code book of how to interpret them through one’s own cultural lens is as useful 
as providing a nourishing meal of soup without a bowl to put it in. Moreover, simulations 
and exercises need to be scripted in a non-biased manner in order to accurately represent the 
appropriate situations to be examined, thus eliminating mirror imaging. 

Given that many businesses and industries have already embraced this concept, 
training models should be relatively easy to obtain and could be adapted for military use. 
Specialized study programs are available through a variety of sources; however, a general 
awareness is what’s required for the average military member. A key aspect in the 
realization of this type of training is that the material is introduced as a part of initial 
technical training and revisited often throughout a military member’s career. It is important 
that the practical use of the cultural knowledge be understood in order for the material to be 
acted upon."^^ The concept of teaching leaders and soldiers how to think about culture as it 


relates to operations in a foreign environment matters more in the long term than just 
teaching them what to think about as it relates to the current environment.^^ 


Culture is a two way street. While the U.S. military focus on understanding the 
culture of other societies is admirable, it is only half the battle. Foreign cultures are 
simultaneously interacting with the United States and subsequently viewing the actions and 
attitudes displayed by the U.S. military through their own cultural lens. Therefore, it falls 
upon the United States to better understand its actions as it relates to culture and the 
subsequent perceptions by non-Americans. 

The business and communication fields have already identified the need for a better 
understanding of American culture when operating abroad. Furthermore, social 
psychologists and anthropologists have recognized this fact and regularly attempt to mitigate 
ethnocentrism when conducting intercultural communication. In looking at the two 
operational examples noted above, culture may not have been the single missing ingredient in 
the recipe for success, but it may have provided a little more time, a little more 
understanding, and potentially an opening for a breakthrough as a result of seeing the world 
through a different set of eyes. 



* References to “American culture” throughout this paper should be interpreted as the culture of the United 
States of America and not those cultures of North, Central and/or South America, which will be identified 

^ Maxie McFarland, “Military Cultural Education” Military Review 85, 2 (Mar/Apr 2005): 65. 

^ A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (New York, NY: 
Vintage, 1952) as referenced by Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 
Publications Inc, 2006): 386. 

^ Brooks Peterson. Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures (Yarmouth, 

MA: Intercultural Press, 2004), 17. 

^ William A. Haviland, Dana Walrath, Harold E.L. Prins and Bunny McBride, Cultural Anthropology: 

The Human Challenge (Twelfth Edition) (Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth, 2008), 26. 

® The discussion of culture in this paper is separate from the concept of “military culture”. For more 
information on this subject see Carl Builder, The Masks of War; American Military Styles in Strategy and 
Analysis (Baltimore, MD: The RAND Corporation, 1989). 

^ William D. Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for U.S. Armed Forces Deploying 
to Arab and Middle Eastern Countries (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2006), 103. 

* JP 2-0 includes 3 references to “culture” and 11 references to “cultural”; JP 3-0 includes 7 references to 
“culture” and 16 references to “cultural” within the document. While both documents specify that gaining 
cultural knowledge is important, neither document provides a definition or method by which the action should 
be accomplished. Of note, JP 2-0 provides a definition for “human factors” which more closely references the 
various influences which impact decision-making; however, the explanation provided references culture as one 
of the key aspects without further clarification. Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Intelligence, Joint 
Publication (JP) 2-0 (Washington, DC: CJCS, 22 June 2007); and Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint 
Operations, Joint Publication (JP) 3-0 (Washington, DC: CJCS, 13 February 2008). 

® Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Joint Publication 
(JP) 1-02 (Washington, DC: CJCS, 31 October 2009), 138. 

*** The Army has designated the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as the proponent of cultural 
training. Additional information can be found at Air University operates the Air 
Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) to develop cross-cultural awareness within the Air Force. More 
information can be found at The Navy has established the Center for Language, 
Regional Expertise and Culture (CLREC) in order to coordinate language, cultural, and regional familiarization 
training across the Navy. Additional information can be found at The Marine Corps 
operates the Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL) which provides training through 
Marine Expeditionary Force Liaison Officers, Language Learning Resource Centers and mobile-training teams. 
More information on these tools can be found at caocl/. 

** Benjamin C. Freakley, “Cultural Awareness and Combat Power” Infantry 94, 2 (Mar/Apr 2005): 1. 

Andrew W. Stewart, Friction in U.S. Foreign Policy: Cultural Difficulties with the World (Carlisle, PA: 
Strategic Studies Institute, June 2006), 18. 

James B. Higgins, “Culture Shock: Overhauling the Mentality of the Military” Marine Corps Gazette 90, 2 
(Feb 2006): 48. 

Mark S. Leslie, “Integrating Cultural Sensitivity into Combat Operations” Armor 116, 1 (Jan/Feb 2007): 35. 
Higgins, Culture Shock: Overhauling the Mentality of the Military, 50. 

Joel B. Krauss. “Cultural Awareness in Stability and Support Operations” Infantry 89, 1 (Jan/Feb 1999): 16. 
Dave Dilegge, “Zinni's Considerations Revisited” Small Wars Journal (17 Dec 2007), 
http://smallwarsjournal.eom/blog/2007/12/zinnis-considerations-revisite/ (accessed 9 April 2010). 

** Margaret L. Andersen and Howard Francis Taylor, Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society (Belmont, 
CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2005), 67. 

With the emergence of nations and nationalism in the 19* century, all of mankind has become categorized 
within an imagined state structure with defined boundaries. However, not all state structures conform to the 
identity associated with a given culture within the same area. As a result, all cultures have developed a 
differentiation of “us” vs. “them.” This inherent ethnocentrism leads to an automatic and even unconscious 
belief that “my way is better.” These boundaries, coupled with political motives and interests inevitably leads 


to cultural conflict. For more information on this subject see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (New 
York, NY: Verso, 1983). 

Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (2nd Edition) (Avon, MA: Adams 
Media, 2006), ix. 

Ibid., X. 

Deborah L. Madsen, American Exceptionalism. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 2. 

Lawrence R. Erey, Dennis S. Gouran, Marshall Scott Poole. The Handbook of Group Communication Theory 
and Research (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 1999), 126. 

Robert Francis Lewis, “Recommendations for Interviewing, Interrogating, or Polygraphing the Radical 
Fundamentalist Terrorist” (research paper, University of Wisconsin, Platteville, 2008), 55. 

Morrison and Conaway, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (2nd Edition), xi. 

^ Peterson. Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures, 41. 

McFarland, Military Cultural Education, 67. 

Ibid., 66. 

Mark S. Leslie, “Cultural Understanding: The Cornerstone of Success in a COIN Environment” Infantry 96, 4 
(JuEAug 2007): 9. 

Jessica C.E. Gienow-Hecht, “A European Considers the Influence of American Culture” eJournal USA (Feb 
06), http://www.america.gOv/st/business-english/2006/February/20080608094132xjyrreP0.2717859.html 
(accessed 12 April 2010). 


Gary Wederspahn, “Expat Training” T&D 56, 2 (Feb 2002): 68. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Promoting Cultural Sensitivity: A Practical Guide for 
Tuberculosis Programs That Provide Services to Persons from Somalia, (Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of 
Health and Human Services, 2008), 18, 
Somalia/chapters/SomaliTBBooklet.pdf (accessed 9 April 2010). 

Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and 
Middle Eastern Countries, 133. 

Walter Clarke and Jeffrey Herbst, “Somalia and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention” Foreign Affairs 
75, 2 (Mar/Apr 1996), 70, (accessed 8 April 2010). 

Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and 
Middle Eastern Countries, 134. 

Jim Naureckas, “Media on the Somalia Intervention: Tragedy Made Simple” Extra (Mar 1993), (accessed 12 April 2010). 

^ In an interview conducted three days prior to commencement of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, Vice 
President Dick Cheney asserted that the U.S. military would be greeted by the Iraqi people as liberators upon 
their arrival due to the dire situation in the country. Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States, interview 
by Tim Russert, 14 September 2003, NBC News’ Meet the Press,^ush/ 
cheneymeetthepress.htm (accessed 21 April 2010). 

An individual’s cultural identity can be better understood using the Scale of Identities. For example, Middle 
East and North African nations typically associate themselves with 3, 4/6, and 5 whereas the U.S. and other 
Western nations often view the world through 1, 2, and 8. These differences in identity, unless recognized, can 
complicate military operations and the associated planning effort. Peter Bechtold, “African Culture and 
History” Powerpoint, 10 September 2009, Newport, RI: Naval War College, Africa Fall Elective 661. 

“A rentier state is one where significant amounts of oil/mineral royalties (rents) accrue directly to the state 
and where only a few are engaged in the generation of this rent (wealth), the majority being only involved in the 
distribution or utilization of it.” Michael Ross, “Does Oil Hinder Democracy?” World Politics 53 (April 2001): 
(accessed 11 April 2010). 

Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and 
Middle Eastern Countries, 63. 

^ Larry L. Naylor, American Culture: Myth and Reality of a Culture of Diversity (Westport, CT: Bergin & 
Garvey, 1998), 40-43. 

McFarland, Military Cultural Education, 63. 


Robert H.E. Gooren, “Soldiering in Unfamiliar Places: The Dutch Approach” Military Review 86, 2 (Mar/Apr 
2006): 58. 

Henri Bore, “Complex Operations in Africa, Operational Culture Training in the French Military” Military 
Review 89, 2 (Mar/Apr 2009): 71. 



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